Catholics express hope, disappointment over Pope’s statement

Vatican city, April 9 (IANS) Pope Francis’ new 265-page manifesto, “Amoris Laetitia,” Latin for “The Joy of Love,” covers so much territory that it is going to take some time for Catholics to read and reflect on it.

But they are already forming impressions. Many said they appreciated Francis’ approach of accepting families as they are, instead of insisting on some ideal of perfection.

The language in the document left plenty of room for people to draw their own conclusions on the hot-button question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive the sacrament of communion without having their first marriages annulled, The New York Times reported.

Those who were hoping for the church to be more flexible found plenty of that in Francis’ missive. Those who were hoping for a reaffirmation of the church’s doctrine that marriage is permanent and indissoluble were also reassured by what they read. Amoris Laetitia is turning out to be a Rorschach test for Catholics.

Gina Ryan of Fairfield, Conn., said she felt hopeful that Francis is working to make the church more relevant to American Catholics.

Ryan, 74, said the church had been central to her life, but that she had wrestled with its positions on contraception and the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.

Ryan has been married three times — each ended in divorce and annulment. “I feel that the marriage to my first husband and the father of my children is my only real marriage, even though he was gay,” she said.

She said she felt that Francis went as far as he could in his statement. “I think doing this with such sensitive language was very wise. I think what it boils down to is relevance. Without change, I think that people are just going to give up going to church.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Ky., is the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and a social worker who has been in parish ministry.

“Every aspect of church ministry is going to be affected,” especially marriage preparation and support for couples once they are married, Archbishop Kurtz said.

He expected that the exhortation would have an effect on how seminarians are trained to work with families. Archbishop Kurtz said that he thought Pope Francis’ message to pastors was “don’t forget to see people as unique,” not simply as categories.

“The teaching is not changing, he’s not giving new regulations or new rules, but he is giving a mind-set in which we see the person first,” the archbishop said.

William Steinmetz, a divorced father of two children, said he had hoped for more from Francis. Specifically, he said, he wanted to hear that the church would “recognize families as they actually exist in all their variations.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, said in a statement: “Clearly, church officials, up to and including Pope Francis, still have little idea of the reality of LGBT. people’s faith, lives, and family situations. This document continues to demonstrate a tragic ignorance. Many LGBT people and families have offered to share their experience with church officials, and often get a deaf ear.”

The Rev. Paul Huesing is pastor of Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chicago, and a member of the Paulist religious order. His congregation is ethnically diverse, with a lot of young families.

For the last 35 years as a priest, he said, he has been using the approach Francis suggests in the document. He encourages people who have remarried outside the church to examine their own conscience regarding whether to take communion.

Pope Francis has taken action in the past on how the Roman Catholic Church should try to meet the needs of families.

Barbara Falls raised eight children, now all grown, in Old Town, Me., never used contraception and attends Mass every Sunday.

She said she really appreciated the passages in the document that call the church to work harder at preventing couples from divorcing, because in her experience marriages can be saved.

“I don’t care whether you’re liberal, conservative, Catholic or atheist, keeping families together is really important,” she said.

Falls, who considers herself an orthodox Catholic, said she thinks that Francis is “trying to get people back to the church, so he’s trying to make it like we’re inclusive.”

But she said: “I don’t think people are interested in going. I don’t think it’s going to work.”

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